Moments of truth in the NFL come right after games end, when the raw combination of pain and defeat isn’t so easily hidden.
The league mandates a 10-minute cooling-off period before reporters enter the locker room, but that’s not enough time to dispense with the emotions that are filtered out a few days later, when the focus has turned to the next game.
So it was revealing Sunday when Redskins coach Jay Gruden — normally beholden to the one-game-at-a-time philosophy — mentioned “tough” upcoming games against the Seahawks, Vikings and Saints after six more of his players were injured in a loss to the Cowboys. The Redskins entered the game with 17 players on their injury report.
Gruden wouldn’t concede that the season is slipping away, but the blank look on his face revealed more than sadness over one loss. It exposed foreboding over a 3-4 team that is quickly circling the drain.
Kirk Cousins, who’s always optimistic, for once seemed realistic when he talked about an offensive line that was without six of its top seven players by the end of the game.
It wasn’t the quarterback’s words, but his body language that betrayed him. That nervous smile from his rookie year returned as he tried not to blame a line that featured three guys he barely knew, including one — tackle Orlando Franklin — he first met in the pregame locker room.
When asked about a vicious hit he took, Cousins voiced his appreciation for a Riddell helmet that kept him safe when his teammates could not.
The locker room was quiet and mostly empty, much like it’s been after many losses in the past. But players too banged up to move quickly still lingered. Tackle Trent Williams discussed the chance that he might stop playing with a bruised knee bone and floating kneecap. He knows surgery is likely with six to nine months of rehab. How long can it wait?
Williams is week-to-week, but Gruden trailed off when he counted the two, three, four or more weeks he expects the Pro Bowl lineman to miss.
And, like a bad wind out of nowhere, former Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III started tweeting. He wrote that he loved Washington and his past teammates there. He wrote that he’s learned from past mistakes and understands why Gruden picked Cousins over him. It felt like a trial balloon for owner Dan Snyder to consider reconciliation in case, you know, his team needs a quarterback sometime soon.
Washington’s 2-2 start proved it was a postseason contender, but injuries have decimated the roster. In the postgame locker room, it seemed like players could feel their playoff hopes fading away. The club won’t get healthy in time to make a difference.
Coaches and players know the bitter truth but can’t speak it aloud. Their playoff chances are gone.
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